LETTER TO THE EDITOR: The Kirkland Hall protestors should not be treated as martyrs

An alumnus argues that the Kirkland Hall sit-in had no intellectual value and threatens the university’s credibility.
Kirkland Hall with student protestors, as photographed on March 27, 2024 (Hustler Multimedia/Josh Rehders).
Kirkland Hall with student protestors, as photographed on March 27, 2024 (Hustler Multimedia/Josh Rehders).

Dear Editor, 

It has been a week since student protestors with the Vanderbilt Divest Coalition began a self-titled “occupation” of Kirkland Hall, where a group of students brazenly assaulted an officer, urinated in bottles in a public hallway and vandalized a building; filming and publicly circulating their actions in the process. 

Vanderbilt’s reputation is tied to its ability to educate its students. In their intellectual hubris, these activists circumvented free inquiry and critical thinking, opting for mob-like activism. To preserve the university’s legitimacy, administrators must be more assertive in guiding students toward more substantive forms of discourse. 

One need not debate the justifications for Israel’s actions to note the peculiarity that students residing in Nashville, Tenn., some 6,000-odd miles from the site of the conflict in Gaza, are willing to risk their academic careers to chant “Free Palestine” to their university administrators. Though their arguments are weak, there is elaborate symbolism in the calls for the boycott and condemnations of the Jewish state that rang from Kirkland Hall last week.

Some of the students participating in this demonstration appear to treat Israel as yet another progressive cause against which to demonstrate, as with fossil fuels and Greek Life in years prior. Others seem to hold an even stronger stance, such as believing Israel is diametrically opposed to their worldview. 

But, alas, all of these protestors seem to share a common understanding that activism, not learning, is the best approach to advance their grievances against the Jewish state. Their 21-hour struggle session is but the latest evidence of this belief. I appeal to the Divest Coalition’s live broadcastings, which include videos featuring them mocking the race of Vanderbilt police officers, accosting seemingly random staff in the Chancellor’s office for “upholding genocide” and tokenizing a small cadre of Jewish students as a means of validating their extreme positions. 

If Vanderbilt is to remain an institution of serious intellectual inquiry, I believe administrators should do everything in their power to discourage these activities and guide students away from activism. 

Sincerely, 

Jordan Esrig (‘23)

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About the Contributor
Jordan Esrig, Guest Writer
Jordan Esrig (BA ‘23) is a contributing reporter at the New York Sun, a 2024 Claremont Institute Publius Fellow and an incoming oil and gas investment banker. He was a research assistant for Saul Singer and Dan Senor’s book “The Genius of Israel.”
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Comments (15)

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D
Doug Dukakis
1 month ago

Vanderbilt should not allow racism and antisemitism. Period.

F
Farouk Ramzan
1 month ago

A call for civil discourse compared to unruly discourse is justified. But a call for disqualifying activism altogether as a unserious intellectual activity is incorrect. Henry David Thoreau to Martin Luther King Jr. to Leo Tolstoy have all engaged in activism; and they are serious intellectuals. Moreover, activism is an expression of free speech on campus and therefore cannot be censored per university rules (unless it becomes unruly like in the case of the Kirkland protestors).

Should discourse be more civil on campus? Perhaps. Should activism be prevented by higher-ups? No.

But maybe the writer is equating activism with unruly expression of speech. Because surely the writer doesn’t condemn the peaceful sit-in culture of the Civil Rights Era. In that case, the writer should be more careful about selecting words. He should’ve condemned “unruly” or “uncivil” speech, not “activism.”

F
Freedom of Speech Applies to Those U Disagree With
1 month ago

I should not engage with this obvious bait, but you got me.

Your depiction of events is knowingly dishonest and in bad faith.

Assault? Come on, seriously?

Peeing in bottles? They were denied access to the bathroom’s inside the building and continued their sit in.

You know better, you’re just upset they took drastic means of protest that disagrees with your agenda.

The priority is ending the war, not owning the other side with circular rhetoric.

L
Lowell
1 month ago

Very well written. The illiberal left is a threat to freedom of expression and the public discourse. These radical pro-Hamas are thinly veiled antisemites

J
Jor-done
1 month ago

Jordan Esrig’s letter is a masterclass in missing the point. By dismissing the Kirkland Hall sit-in as lacking “intellectual value,” Esrig not only undermines the rich history of student activism but also trivializes the very real concerns driving these protests. The characterization of the students’ actions as “mob-like activism” is a lazy and transparent attempt to discredit a movement he disagrees with, rather than engaging with its substance.

Esrig’s condescending tone peaks when he questions the students’ focus on the Israel-Palestine conflict due to their geographic location. This line of reasoning is absurdly provincial. By Esrig’s logic, we should all turn a blind eye to global injustices unless they’re happening in our backyard. Students raising their voices against perceived injustices—whether local or international—are exercising a global civic responsibility, not engaging in misguided activism.

Then you look at Esrig’s portrayal of the protesters’ actions—assaulting an officer, urination, and vandalism—it’s manipulatively selective. Focusing on these aspects without context is a classic move to delegitimize the protesters’ broader message. It’s important to note that the first and last accusations have not been proven in court, and the second was a direct result of students being denied access to basic facilities. If not bottles, where else were they to urinate? And let’s address his use of quotation marks around “upholding genocide” and the dismissive way he mentions tokenizing Jewish students. Jordan’s insensitivity to the gravity of these issues is glaring. By mocking their concerns and reducing their activism to mere attention-seeking he’s not just being pretentious; he is actively contributing to the silencing of important conversations about human rights and justice. His suggestion that Vanderbilt should steer students away from activism and towards “more substantive forms of discourse” is both patronizing and dangerous. Esrig seems to prefer a sanitized academic environment where students are seen but not heard, which flies in the face of the university’s role as a place for critical thought and societal progress.

All in all, Esrig’s letter is a cocktail of condescension, detachment, and a disturbing desire to police the bounds of acceptable protest. Instead of engaging with the protesters’ message, he chooses to belittle and dismiss them. This isn’t just unhelpful; it goes against the very principles of academic freedom and student engagement that universities should champion. The students involved in these protests are not naive troublemakers; they’re engaged citizens and critical thinkers challenging the status quo—and they deserve to be treated with respect, not disdain.

Considering the broader context of Jordan’s other writings and prior antics in VCR, it’s pretty clear that this letter isn’t an isolated incident but part of a larger pattern of spewing out poorly researched and heavily biased work. I have a lot more thoughts but I’ll leave you with one piece of advice Jordan, for the sake of our sanity and your dignity, don’t touch a keyboard again.

N
Norman Finkelstein
1 month ago
Reply to  Jor-done

I have a nice plot of land in Rafah that you may be interested in buying.

C
Cranky Alum
1 month ago

“an incoming oil and gas investment banker”

I’d write a long, drawn out retort to this scantly-detailed appeal to ethos, but sometimes the jokes write themselves.

V
Vandy 25
1 month ago
Reply to  Cranky Alum

“I believe administrators should do everything in their power to… guide students away from activism.” Are we sure this author isn’t a contributing reporter for The Onion and not The New York Sun?

V
Vanderbilt Graduate
1 month ago

I agree. The Israel-Hamas fight is polarizing, and I understand emotions are high. However, strongly identifying with one side or the other is to ignore many of the problematic events on both sides of this long-standing conflict.

The focus at Vanderbilt should be on students preparing to make a difference in the world, not students virtue signaling from afar.

A
Anonymous
1 month ago

All of this could be said about the Russia-Ukraine fight. Or tensions between Taiwan and China. Or nearly any international conflict.

Something tells me your stance that it’s an issue is too complex to take a side isn’t applied to all of these though.

V
Vanderbilt Graduate
1 month ago
Reply to  Anonymous

No, all that could not be said about those (Russia-Ukraine, Taiwan-China) conflicts.

Each conflict stands on its own, and this editorial is not about any other conflict. Whataboutisms are not rebuttal.

A
Anonymous
1 month ago

I did not mean to compare the conflicts beyond pointing out that they are long-standing, complex, and multi-sided – which I don’t think should be a controversial statement when describing any international conflict.

My point though, that is that the dismissal of any activism or “identifying with only one side” seems to arise (generally, as with your case, without explanation) selectively. More specifically, I can’t remember a time I’ve seen this argument used when a country that does not have close relations to the US commits war crimes. Complexity only seems to preclude activism when the US or its allies massacre civilians.

D
Dante Hernandez
1 month ago

L take, asking people to do nothing while there are injustices is psychotic. You can disagree with their methods but it seems you just disagree with activism. Youre not licking the boot, youre throating it.

N
Norman Finkelstein
1 month ago

bro you’re just salty your team is taking a fat L. Get good buddy

L
Leroy
1 month ago

They did something. They’re facing consequences. That’s how it goes.